April 09, 2010

My first horror movie books - early looks at the genre

There are now books, magazines and websites about every aspect of horror movies. But when I was first getting into horror movies in the early 1970s, there were only a handful of books on the subject. These were also among the earliest to take the genre seriously. With limited pocket money, I had to wait to own these hardback reference books when Christmas or a birthday rolled around. I could save up for the paperbacks.

While I re-read them all, I'd often look at the photographs. They helped put most of these films on my 'must see' list. I fixated on them, trying to imagine what the films were going to be like. This sometimes lead to disappointment, the same way that lobby cards and posters outside the cinema often hyped up elements that weren't actually in the film. I'm obviously very fond of these few volumes for giving me my horror education, but they hold their value - many of their photos haven't reappeared in other publications, making them still worth a look. Remember that much publicity material for colour movies were only ever in black and white. The lack of colour photos for colour films reflects this. From their publishing dates, it looks like the mid-1970s saw a steady trickle of new books, as well as reprints of the few existing titles on the subject.

At the time, I ignored some of the weightier books which were only available in (expensive) hardbacks, aimed at academic use. With the accent on text and analysis and far fewer photos, I passed on The Haunted Screen (silent horror in Germany) and An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (1967, Carlos Clarens). Though I know many horror fans started off with those groundbreaking works. For me, it was the following editions that started me off...

A Pictorial History of Horror Movies
by Denis Gifford

My very first guide to horror films was this large-format hardback first published in 1973. A well-researched history starting with the earliest silent short films of Melies, ending just before The Exorcist. The ilustrations were as important as the text - I think I've memorised all the captions. It includes rare photos from Hollywood, British and even Japanese horror films - this was my first glimpse of Horror of Malformed Men. There are a few full page glossy colour pages with a fantastic shot of Dr Phibes sitting at his organ, a Bela Lugosi poster for The Mystery of the Marie Celeste. and poster art of Claude Rains (before the mask) from Phantom of the Opera.

Horror Movies
by Alan Frank
Concentrating on the (then) modern decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Horror Movies was another large hardback that offered more photos and more colour. The striking cover photograph is from Dr Terror's House of Horrors. Like many overviews of the genre, it's mainly a stream of themed plot synopses and reviews, rather than analysis. Also, these British books pay as much, if not more attention to horror from the UK. The photos are what's important, including two more great full-page colour Dr Terror publicity shots inside.

Horror in the Cinema by Ivan Butler
An affordable pocket-sized 1970 reprint of this early 1967 guide, has a more international view of the genre. It includes a choice checklist of must-see horrors, whetting my appetite for Onibaba and Kwaidan. It includes chapters on the Roger corman Poe cycle, and Roman Polanski's early films, championing the importance of Repulsion to psychological horror.

The House of Horror
A medium-sized paperback dedicated to Hammer Films, with more photos than text. Little more than synopses for all of Hammer's horror films up till then (indeed the studio stopped production soon after). Great photos, including a fair amount of female nudity and some spectacular glossy colour reprints of some explicit posters (including Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde) several of which never even got filmed.

Classics of the Horror Film by William K. Everson
A large weighty 1974 hardback, dedicated mainly to vintage American horror. Everson makes personal, authoritative choices, dedicating a chapter to each of his favourites. Again this is illustrated with rare black and white stills, special attention given to silent movies like Faust. His addition of a chapter on newer movies like The Exorcist looks like a grudging afterthought. He highlights some very weak entries like Dr Cyclops and Murder By The Clock - they may have their moments but I doubt they're in anyone else's top tens. He also nominates London After Midnight without having seen it (it was already lost by then).

Everson followed up with 'More Classics of the Horror Film' in 1986, including a look at recently rediscovered classics, informing many of us of the alternate Spanish version of Dracula (1931) and the colour prints of Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum.

Horror & Fantasy in the Cinema by Tom Hutchinson
By now I was getting new books just for the photos. This one at least included more sci-fi movies (which were also getting more specialist coverage). Some of the colour pages include a beautiful full-page hand-coloured publicity photo of Fredric March as both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There's a also brutal b/w shot of Peter Cushing cutting up a topless victim from the 'continental version' of Corruption, a version I'm still waiting to see.

Monsters and Vampires
by Alan Frank
Obviously Alan Frank's Horror Movies sold well, and lead to this 1976 photo-heavy volume. With a spectacular still from Dracula Has Risen From the Grave on the cover and a gruesome portrait from Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell on the back, of the monster with dirty rags stuffed into his empty eye sockets! Like Horror Movies, this has great-looking stills, but many are from very poor movies like The Frozen Dead, Doctor Blood's Coffin and The Mutations. Compensated for by some rare glossy colour shots of a green Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein.

Movie Monsters
by Denis Gifford
Lastly, three books I found in the local library. This one divided all the existing Movie Monsters into categories. It was an expensive small-format hardback (1969), before being reprinted in paperback (1974). The whole volume is printed on heavy, glossy paper adding extra quality to all the black and white stills, again biased towards classic Hollywood. Gifford also compiled a similar volume called Science Fiction Film.

A Heritage of Horror
by David Pirie
This book focused my admiration for British horror movies, with intelligent analysis and categorisations. The links Pirie makes between Night of the Demon and Night of the Eagle, the 'Sadian trilogy' of Peeping Tom, Horrors of the Black Museum and Circus of Horrors, are hard to forget or deny. He includes a chapter on Amicus films and centres his predictions on the future of British horror on the work of Michael Reeves (which indeed happened for a while) including a lovely still of Reeves on location with Vincent Price. The dramatic black and white photographs are carefully chosen, with an unforgettable shot of a zombie pushing its way out of a grave (from Plague of the Zombies). The exhaustive appendix, listing his choice of British horror films, gave me something else to aim for. There are hardback and paperback editions (from 1973) with the above cover art. A Heritage of Horror was widely admired for many decades, though very hard to acquire. I think it would have been far more influential had it been republished more often. When it was finally reprinted in 2007, Pirie took his chance to update it. But I think his key observations were considerably diluted by the new material. I'd recommend you try and hunt down the original.

Movie Magic by John Brosnan
Special effects are a key ingredient for horror, sci-fi and disaster movies. The late John Brosnan left no genre unturned as he enthusiastically produced this overview of the key special effects techniques in use before Star Wars. This is a fascinating and entertaining overview on early (non-digital) visual effects. I loved this book. After Movie Magic (the hardback edition is pictured), behind-the-scenes articles in Cinefantastique magazine thankfully became more technically interested in visual and make-up effects (before Fangoria and Cinefex took over in 1979). 

Before any of the above, one of the only sources was American Cinematographer, which of course only covered Hollywood films. The magazine began its spectacular run all the way back in 1920! The 1970s saw a revolution in the horror genre, where realism replaced gothic, chain saws replaced poisoned teacups, and the boy next door was a more likely threat than a Romanian count. By the end of the decade, the success of new horror and slasher movies had given rise to internationally sucessful and available horror movie magazines. The drought was over. But when I've dug them all out, I'll take a similar look at my earliest horror movie magazines. Unlike the USA, in mid-1970's London, Famous Monsters of Filmland was hard to find...


  1. Crikey! Your horror movie books are almost exactly the same as mine. I also had Ed Naha's HORRORS FROM SCREEN TO SCREAM.

    Still love the Gifford and Frank books.

    Never cared for those tinted black and pic stills in Tom Hutchison's book.


  2. An excellent post. I used to have the 'Classics of the Horror Film' book. I traded a dozen Famous Monsters magazines for it and later regretted it. This was in 1983 when I was in 3rd grade. It was a good book, though. There was another book from the same author I think called Classics of Science Fiction, or something like that. I liked that one even better.

  3. The Gifford "Pictorial History" was my first, soon followed by Everson's "Classics", Naha's "HFSTS", and "House of Horror", not mention others from the same publisher such as "Savage Cinema".

    But there was also "The Vampire Cinema" which introduced me to Jean Rollin via repro's of some amazing French posters and stills of naked French women. I liked Rollin's films before I even saw them! It was also where I read about Alain Jessua's TRAITEMENT DE CHOC which I was actually able to go and see at my local Odeon where it played as DOCTOR IN THE NUDE (on a double-bill with...I wish I knew what!), and shortly afterwards was screened - possibly as SHOCK TREATMENT? - on ATV in a Friday late night slot.

  4. thanks for your comments: appreciated

    Best Alan (Frank)

  5. Wow. Just to let you know, Mr Frank,the books I mentioned are still prized possessions of mine. They prompted me to look high and low for many, many enjoyable movies.

    How did Horror Movies come about?

  6. Wow! I had a lot of the same books when I was a kid and growing up! Cool article!!!

  7. These are incredible. These got checked out of the library again and again when I was a kid. I can recall being obsessed with certain stills in these books, and some of the movies I didn't even see until I was an adult. I've found a few of these in recent years and it's a welcome blast from the past.

  8. These are all my original copies that I hung onto through the years, except MOVIE MAGIC and HERITAGE OF HORROR which I tracked down as paperbacks in secondhand shops. I more recently looked for the hardback editions on eBay, so that I could have exactly the same editions as the library books I remembered.

  9. Who's the author of "The House of Horror" book ? Or company that made it?

  10. Mike, the House Of Horror book has no credited author! I'll check again for you and post any details here.

    A revised updated volume was printed quite recently, I believe.

  11. Mike, here we are - The House of Horror was published by Lorrimer in 1973 and 74. There's no credited author, but it was edited by Allen Eyles, Robert Adkinson and Nicholas Fry. ISBN 0-85647-020-1.

  12. Thank you for this post (and for the great blog in general)! The Everson & Gifford Books are still favorites of mine to this day! Now you have me searching for the Frank books. My nonplussed mother bought me the Everson book as a sympathy gift after a painful surgery I had when I was seven or so. I was allowed to choose any book I wanted and and it was on sale in one of those carts they put outside the store. Thanks mom!

  13. Hello I'm hoping you can help me. I'm looking for a Movie Monster Book I had growing up, that was mistakenly THROWN away (*sob*) by a relative who borrowed it. I can't even remember the name of it but I suspect it was published between the mid 70s early 80's. White hardcover and either black or red title lettering. It's because of this book that I developed my sincere love of horror movies. It had tons of great pictures and interesting information on everything from the awesome classic hammer films to "andy warhols frankenstein". If that rings a bell, I would really appreciate it if you could tell me the name, author and publisher because I'd love to buy another copy.



  14. Felicia - are you based in the UK or the US? It may help us track down the book you're looking for. : )

  15. A white hardcover - I'm guessing that was without a dustcover with photographs on it.

    My fist guess would be Alan Frank's HORROR FILMS, an even larger hardback than his earlier HORROR MOVIES.
    Picture here...

  16. I'm in the U.S. =) My cousin kinda thinks it may have been called "the Monster book" but it may just be that "the monster book" is simply what we referred to it as. and correct. No dustcover. I never even saw a dustcover. another note.. I would venture to guess that the book was approximately 9x12. in size.

    Thanks guys!

  17. Hello,

    Felicia here, and I am still searching for my long lost Movie Monster book. In discussing the loss of this book so much recently, I believe I now remember the publisher. Octopus - which interestingly enough, is a UK based publishing company... I would suspect however that the book was purchased here in the US. If that helps anyone think of the book I'm looking for, I would really appreciate your help.


  18. The two Alan Frank books that are shown in the article MOVIE TREASURY OF HORROR MOVES and MOVIE TREASURY OF MONSTERS AND VAMPIRES were both published by Octopus Books.

    Are there any colour photos that you remember from them?

  19. You just showed me my own younger days. Very facinating.
    Thank you very much!

  20. Hi guys, love the blog, have a particular book I'm trying to track down from my childhood. It was a large format hardback, to the best of my recollection it had the Frankenstein Monster on the cover, and I remember it distinctly for being mostly black in white pics, but it had a still from The Tingler that was color like it was in the movie, it was the shot of the hand coming up out of the bath tub in color, it's not
    A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford, already have that one, thanks for any info in advance, Dave

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. Dave, I can't think of a book with that photo in, but if I find it, I'll let you know.

  23. Hi, trying to get reunited with a book from my youth - my recollection is of a still of Barbara Steele, with nail punctured face from The Mask of Satan. Was that the Gifford book? Thx E

  24. I think that brutal shot of Barbara Steele is in Gifford's PICTORIAL HISTORY as well as MOVIE MONSTERS (which was a much smaller book).

  25. Interesting! I asked someone selling the Gifford book to check, and they found no mention of Barbara Steele or The Mask of Satan in the index. I don't recall the smaller book. Stumped! Though the author you mentioned, Carlos Clarens seems familiar. Would love to figure this out :)

  26. OK, now I've checked properly. There's a full page photo of Barbara Steele's face from MASK OF SATAN in Denis Gifford's MOVIE MONSTERS, the paperback version is pictured above.

  27. Hi Mark, awesome - thanks so much for looking!
    Great blog by the way, it's going to take me ages to read through ;)

  28. Great post Mark. The Gifford book was my first 'serious' horror film tome. I remember taking it into school for the last day of Christmas term (when you could take a favourite book or toy) and the teacher looking through it. Near the back, there's a particularly gruesome still of a woman with an axe in her head and blood pouring down her head. He looked at it for a good ten seconds, then said: "Is this your dad's book?" "No sir, my mum bought it as a present for me last Christmas," I answered (truthfully).
    He just closed the page and said: "Don't let any of the girls see it..." Today, a tecaher would probably call social services.
    Nevertheless, the Gifford book was my prized possession. Whenever I watched a horror movie on TV (a BBC horror double bill or a Fear on Friday ITV presentation) I underlined the title in red felt tip. I still have that book today and years later I added a second copy. Although that was in pristine condition, it's the old battered original that I always return to.
    Does anyone remember the Monster Movies soft-back written by Gifford that was sold to school kids via the Schoolastic imprint? I think it was only available via schools.
    After Gifford's masterly work I picked up Alan Frank's books. To be honest, I liked them rather more because Frank was clearly a fan of Hammer - and Gifford was rather sniffy about them (he put them down with something along the lines of: "Their output may rival Universal but, in quality, they have yet to match Monogram").
    Frank's Horror Movies (published by Hamlyn in 1976) is well worth tracking down - it's a superb work that covers 90 per cent of the horror movies released to UK cinemas up until that time. Such was its popularity, Horror Movies was reprinted several times (including as a soft back) but, sadly, no one asked Mr Frank to update the text.
    Future Tense written by the witty Australian critic John Brosnan is another standout book from the late 1970s. The orange cover of a head bursting with reels of film makes it a memorable title but the quality of the text is second-to-none. Brosnan's death a couple of years ago robbed the genre of a masterly scholar.
    The staff at my local library, in Scarborough, N Yorks, were great. They knew of my interest and always kept the horror stuff aside for me when they had a book sale. That way I picked up Carlos Clarens' Horror Films (pub 1968) and both the Alan Frank movie treasury editions featured in your post for a few pence each.
    One last anecdote. A few years ago I visited a small secondhand book shop in County Durham and chanced upon a copy of A Heritage of Horror. I'd read it as a kid courtesy of the library (but it never came up in the book sale) and knew it was a great work so I snapped it up.
    The bloke selling it cautioned: "You can have it for 50p because someone has written in it."
    I didn't think anything more of it - just paid the cash and went home - but when I opened it I found two signatures inside the front cover. One of the author David Pirie and the other... none other than Terence Fisher, director of scores of classic Hammer Films.
    The books remains one of my most prized possessions.

  29. Autographed? Ack! Brilliant luck, Nigel! Future Tense cover photo put me off it, I think I bought a later expanded edition, though I'll admit I'm revving up to a companion piece to this covering my first sci-fi movie books.

  30. Think we had the same childhood! I remeber taking my adored copy of "VAMPIRE CINEMA" David Pirrie (?) from about 1978 to school on last day of term, and getting into trouble, when everybody highjacked it to see the nudity....I geniuenly wanted them to marvel at the cool Vampires, and hadnt even thought about the pics "later" in the Lesbian Vampires section...lol
    Twitter me Horror Book fans at @ThatJohnnyD